Sir David Attenborough, the UK’s best-known naturalist and vice-president of Fauna and Flora International (FFI), has today (Thursday October 25th) added his voice to those calling for protection of kelp forests from the threat of mechanical dredging.
The veteran wildlife and environment campaigner has never intervened before on political issues in Scotland, but threats to kelp forests around the Western Isles and off the west coast of Scotland have inspired him to speak out.
A proposal from a company called Marine Biopolymers Ltd (MBL) has identified kelp forests east of Lewis, Harris, Barra and Vatersay as potential harvesting sites. Their proposal to use a dredge or ‘comb’ to extract whole kelp plants is in the pre-licensing stage with Marine Scotland.

MBL has specified two zones of kelp forest which immediately adjoin the islands. Zone 10 surrounds Barra, Vatersay and the uninhabited islands down to Mingulay. Zone 13 covers the whole east coast of Harris and of Lewis up to North Lochs and the seas surrounding the Shiants. There are also zones, numbered 11 and 12, which cover most of North and South Uist. Under the proposals, kelp from these areas would be strip-dredged, pulling plants up by the roots and discarding the stems overboard.
In a statement issued today by FFI, Sir David said: “Charles Darwin was one of the first people to recognise just how important kelp forests are for our oceans, comparing them in diversity to rainforests. These kelp forests not only form an important part of the food chain, but also act as a vital habitat for a wide array of species. Their thick foliage offers food and safety from predators, and provides a nursery ground where juvenile fish can mature in safety. Many of the fish species, such as cod, that are so important to us economically and culturally are also found here.”
A large number of Western Isles businesses working in tourism, fishing and sea-touring have signed up to an open letter demanding Scottish Parliamentary intervention. They cite bio-diversity, the health of fish stocks and environmental issues among their concerns if the proposals are allowed.
Sir David’s call comes ahead of a briefing meeting for MSPs due to be held at Holyrood on November 6th, where environmental campaigners and a professor of marine law will provide a private briefing for members. Na h-Eileanan an Iar MSP Alasdair Allan is ‘very likely’ to attend, according to his office.
The Scottish Parliament will discuss ways to prohibit long-term damage to kelp beds when it considers the Scottish Crown Estate Bill again in November. If passed into law, this would ensure that kelp could not be mechanically dredged in Scottish waters. The Scottish Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee have been discussing ways to protect kelp from any method of harvesting which stops individual plants from being able to re-grow.
Sir David concluded: “It is absolutely imperative that we protect our kelp forests. It is perfectly possible to harvest them sustainably by removing their fronds while leaving the rest of the plant intact. But dredging – or indeed any kind of harvesting that removes the whole plant – is a wholly short-sighted measure that risks the wholesale devastation of our kelp beds.
“I urge decision makers to take the necessary action to protect these vital, and globally important, habitats.”